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Student Drivers in Sarajevo Have More Than Potholes to Worry About

May 20, 1995

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Forget the snipers and that possible errant mortar shell. Enver Lilic had more on his mind Saturday as he took what he hopes is his final driving lesson.

``The driver’s exam worries me more,″ he said, squeezing in a cup of coffee and a cigarette between his last scheduled lesson and the first of his tests. ``Snipers and that kind of stuff? I’ve more or less gotten used to them.″

The lanky 18-year-old has company. Since driving schools reopened six months ago during a relative lull in the Sarajevo fighting, hundreds of people have braved the dangers of driving the streets of a city at war for a chance to get a driver’s license.

Getting a license has become more than a rite of passage to many in the city. Taking driving lessons is a chance to reaffirm their normalcy in abnormal times. And for some it’s a way to make a living in a besieged town where jobs get scarcer as the war drags on.

``A lot of people want to find jobs with the United Nations, and they always ask if you have a license,″ said driving instructor Sead Tabakovic.

Others ``jump at the chance″ to drive delivery trucks in and out of Sarajevo, he said, despite daily Serb fire on the only road connecting the city to the outside world.

``It’s just time for me to get a license,″ said Lilic, who had a parking and night driving test to pass before getting his license. ``Who knows what happens if I wait until the end of the war? I might get killed tomorrow.″

But it isn’t easy in wartime.

Lessons cost between $5 and $7 _ up to three times the average monthly salary. Students also have to bring half a gallon of diesel for each hour. That costs another $5 on the black market.

With public transport almost non-existent, getting to the lessons can be a problem.

Lilic has a round-trip walk of 12 miles from his suburban home to the central marketplace where his instructor waits for him. It’s 18 miles when sniping forces him to take a detour.

Hasib Zorklak, Lilic’s instructor, says he knows of nobody wounded by snipers or shelling during lessons. But growing tensions _ Sarajevo witnessed its worst fighting in two years last week _ have resulted in extra precautions.

The main thoroughfare, known now as ``Sniper Alley,″ is off limits to student drivers. But with Sarajevo surrounded by Serb guns and snipers, nowhere is really safe.

``It’s dangerous here, speed up,″ Zorlak instructed as Lilic struggled with a U-turn on an exposed hill, nearly stalling the vintage Yugo car. ``It’s critical here from the sniper on the hill,″ he said at another dangerous spot.

Huge potholes and ridges on winding and narrow streets, not maintained since the war began more than three years ago, compound the dangers.

Some drivers, with opaque plastic sheeting replacing shell-blasted windshields, swerved around pedestrians in the last moment.

War and traffic hazards result in several major accidents a week, although only a fraction of the tens of thousands of Sarajevans who used to drive still have the cars _ or the money _ to do so. Two U.N. policemen from Ireland were among the latest casualties, with one killed and the other seriously injured after their car crashed at high speed on Sniper Alley Thursday night.

``My wife prays I get home safe every night,″ said Tabakovic. ``If the snipers don’t get you, another driver can.″

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